Cats: They’re notoriously mysterious. They hide their illnesses well, often rule the home, and only want affection when they’re in the mood for it. Some cat breeds have average lifespans of nearly 20 years, while others might only live for 10. Most cats will begin to show visible age-related changes between 7 and 12 years of age. There are metabolic, immunologic, and body composition changes, too.
While some age-related changes are unavoidable, some can be managed with diet. It’s beneficial to start your cat on a senior diet at about 7 years old. Why? Foods specifically designed for senior cats help to maintain health and optimum body weight, slow or prevent the development of chronic disease, and minimize or improve clinical signs of diseases that may already be present.
As your cat ages, he or she will be more susceptible to particular health issues, including:
Just like humans, cats who receive regular preventive health care and eat healthy diets will be less likely to suffer from age-related health conditions. Not sure what to feed your feline to help him or her age gracefully? Ask us—we’d be happy to help.
If you are a pet owner, you might have been tempted to spoil your furry family member with a treat from your plate. But before you do, make sure you’re not sharing one of the common foods that can cause serious, and sometimes fatal, medical problems for cats and dogs.
In a new review of studies, two animal health researchers in Italy drew up a list of the foods that are the most common culprits in pet poisonings worldwide.
“Several foods that are perfectly suitable for human consumption can be toxic to dogs and cats,” the researchers wrote in their review, published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science. “The poisoning episodes are generally due to lack of public knowledge of the serious health threat to dogs and cats that can be posed by these products.”
Sometimes, owners give these harmful foods to their dogs and cats, but a lot of times, pets accidentally ingest these foods, which happen to be commonplace in homes. The researchers found that, in the past decade, reported cases of pet poisoning have involved chocolate and chocolate-based products, plant foods in the Allium genus (including onions, garlic, leeks and chives), macadamia nuts, Vitis vinifera fruits (including grapes, raisins, sultanas and currants), foods sweetened with xylitol (such as sugar-free chewing gums and cookies), ethanol in alcoholic beverages, and unbaked bread dough.
The list of human foods that are toxic to cats and dogs continues to grow as cases get reported. And in many instances, scientists don’t know the exact biological reasons why certain foods sicken animals.
“While some foodstuffs, such as chocolate, have long been known to cause poisoning in dogs and cats, others, such as grapes, had previously been considered unlikely to cause problems, and have emerged as a potential concern only in the last few years,” the authors of the review, Cristina Cortinovis and Francesca Caloni, of the University of Milan in Italy, wrote in their paper. And as a result, poisoning cases have sometimes been wrongly diagnosed, they said.
In general, dogs are affected more than cats, in part because they eat pretty much anything, whereas cats are somewhat protected because they’re pickier eaters, the researchers found.
Here’s an outline of what’s known about foods that are toxic to dogs and cats, according to the review:
Chocolate, coffee and caffeine
Chocolate has a dark side: Cocoa-based products are the items most commonly involved in food poisoning in pets, causing anything from mild problems such as tummy aches to seizures and death. These “poisoning episodes frequently occur around holidays, when there is a higher occurrence of chocolate products in the home,” the researchers wrote.
Chocolate contains two compounds that are toxic to pets: theobromine and caffeine, the researchers said. These compounds alter cellular processes and result in the stimulation of both the central nervous system and heart muscles. Depending on the type of chocolate (dark chocolate has more theobromine than lighter chocolate), one small piece can be enough to make a small dog sick.
Theobromine and caffeine are also found in other types of products. Poisoning cases have been reported after the ingestion of herbal supplements, garden mulch made of cacao bean shells, caffeine tablets and caffeine-containing bait, according to the review.
Initial symptoms often occur within 2 to 4 hours after ingestion and include restlessness, excessive thirst, urinary incontinence and vomiting. “Dogs can be in an excited state,” and have a fever or rapid heart rate, the researchers said. If the animal gets prompt treatment, it often can recover well, but delaying treatment can result in seizures, coma and even death from abnormal heart rhythm or respiratory failure.
The next most common toxic foods for pets are products sweetened with an artificial sweetener called xylitol. Xylitol isfrequently used in products such as sugar-free gum, candy, bread and other baked goods. Xylitol is also found in dental care products (for both people and pets) because of its antibacterial properties.
“Dogs are the species at risk of developing severe, life-threatening clinical signs,” the researchers wrote. In dogs, xylitol stimulates the release of the hormone insulin, leading to a dangerous decrease in blood sugar levels.
Symptoms of xylitol poisoning may develop within 30 to 60 minutes of ingestion, but they also may occur up to 12 hours later. These symptoms include vomiting and signs of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), such as lethargy, inability to control movements, collapsing and seizures.
Onions, chives, garlic and leeks
Plant species in the Allium genius — such as onions, chives, garlic and leeks — often make dogs and cats sick. These common ingredients contain compounds called organosulfoxides. When the animal chews the plant, the organosulfoxides are converted into a complex mixture of sulfur compounds, which can cause the animal’s red blood cells to break down. If the dog or cat ingests even just a piece of an onion (specifically, 5 grams of onion per kilogram of body weight for cats, or 15 to 30 grams per kg for dogs), it can cause dangerous changes to their blood.
According to the review, between 1994 and 2008, there were 69 reported cases of dog poisonings and four cases of cat poisonings from Allium foods. The cases included a range of different foods: raw and baked garlic, Catalan spring onions (commonly known as “calcot”), onion soufflé, butter-cooked onions and steamed dumplings containing Chinese chives. Onions and other Allium plantsmaintain the compounds that cause their toxic effects even after being cooked or dried, the researchers added.
Usually, cats and dogs ingest these foods accidentally, but there was one reported case in which an owner intentionally fed a dog a large quantity of raw onions. While some pets may not show any symptoms after ingesting Allium foods, there have been cases of fatal poisonings.
Symptoms of Allium poisoning may appear a day or several days after consumption, depending on the amounts ingested. Common initial signs include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and loss of appetite. The affected animals develop anemia, and show symptoms such as weakness, rapid breathing, high heart rate, pale color in mucous membranes and reddish or brown urine.
Ethanol, or alcohol, poisoning in small animals generally occurs when an animal accidentally ingests an alcoholic beverage. However, cases of alcohol poisoning in dogs have been reported after dogs have ingested rotten apples, sloe berries used to make sloe gin, and uncooked bread and pizza dough, all of which contain the compound.
When pets digest ethanol, it gets rapidly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract and reaches the brain, just as it does in humans. Within an hour, the animals may show depression, loss of movement control, lethargy, sedation and high body temperature. Animals may go into a coma and develop a dangerously slow breathing rate. In most of the reported cases, the affected pets recovered after receiving treatment and supportive care.
Ethanol isn’t found only in foods and beverages, however. Paint and varnish, medication, perfume, mouthwash and certain types of antifreeze also contain the compound.
Grapes and their dried products (raisins, sultanas and currants)
Grapes, raisins, sultanas and currants in both raw and cooked forms (including those found in snack bars and baked goods) have been reported to cause kidney failure in dogs. However, not all dogs have the same reactions to these foods, according to the review.
In a recent study that looked at 180 case reports involving dogs’ ingestion of grapes and related fruits, some animals didn’t show any symptoms after eating 2 lbs. (0.9 kg) of raisins, while others died after eating just a handful. Dogs that develop symptoms may show signs such as vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, lethargy and abdominal pain within 24 hours of ingesting the grape products.
Hops are commonly used for brewing beer, and have become more of a risk to pets as more and more people pick up home brewing as a hobby, according to the review.
Hops contain a variety of compounds — including resins, essential oils and tannins — which can lead to fever when pets ingest them. Other symptoms include anxiety, rapid heart rate, panting, vomiting, abdominal pain and seizures. The affected animals may show symptoms within hours of eating hops. The risk of death can remain high even after the animal is treated for fever.
Macadamia nuts are popular and healthy snacks for humans, but they can poison dogs. It’s not clear how much of these nuts, when ingested by dogs, can cause serious problems. However, some reports indicate that the ingestion of as little as 0.7 grams per kg of nuts is enough to cause symptoms.
Symptoms of macadamia-nut poisoning develop within 12 hours and may include weakness (particularly hind-limb weakness), vomiting, inability to control movements, shaking, fever, abdominal pain, stiffness and pale mucous membranes. Macadamia-nut poisoning may not be very common, but in just five years, more than 80 cases were reported just in Queensland, Australia, a major area for macadamia-nut cultivation. No pet deaths resulting from macadamia-nut ingestion have been reported to date, and animals are expected to fully recover within a day or two with minimal treatment, the researchers wrote.
Are you one of the millions of people who will hit the road over the long Memorial Day weekend? The American Red Cross wants everyone to have a safe trip and has some travel safety steps everyone can follow to help them enjoy their trip.
DRIVE SAFELY With more people on the roads, it’s important to drive safely. Be well rested and alert, use your seat belts, observe speed limits and follow the rules of the road. If you plan on drinking alcohol, designate a driver who won’t drink.
Other tips for a safe trip include:
Cats often become reclusive and hide when they are not feeling well, which makes knowing when they need to be seen by your veterinarian a challenge. They have unique signs of emergency conditions that often go unrecognized by owners. Some injuries are obvious, such as a cat with an open wound, while others have more subtle signs that can be equally dangerous if left untreated. Knowing signs of illness is crucial in determining when to seek emergency care for your cat. Below is a list of some of the most common cat emergencies and their signs.
This is a condition in which a cat, usually male, is unable to urinate due to a blockage in the urethra (the tube leading from the urinary bladder to the outside environment).
Cats will show a sudden onset of restless behavior, which includes frequent trips in and out of the litter box. They will often attempt to urinate in unusual places such as in a bath tub or on a plastic bag. You may notice a very small stream of urine that contains blood. More often than not, despite a cat’s straining, there may be no urine or even just a drop produced. In later stages of the obstruction, cats may cry loudly, vomit, and become lethargic.
You should consider these signs a serious emergency and seek veterinary care immediately. There are reports of cats developing kidney failure and dying within 12 hours after the onset of signs. Expect your cat to be hospitalized at least 36 hours for treatment of this condition. Veterinary treatments may include a urinary catheter, intravenous fluids, and pain management. Female cats are less likely to become obstructed due to their wider urinary tract.
The combination of their curious nature and unique metabolism (the way their body breaks down chemicals) makes cats vulnerable to toxins. Owners are often unaware that their home contains multiple products that are poisonous to felines. The most common cat toxins include antifreeze, Tylenol, and rat or mouse poison.
The signs your cat displays depends on the type of poison he or she has encountered. Antifreeze will often cause wobbliness or a drunken appearance first, then progresses to vomiting/weakness as the kidneys fail. Tylenol may cause an unusual swelling of the head and changes the cat’s blood color from red to chocolate brown. Rat or mouse poison interferes with blood clotting so you may see weakness from internal blood loss or visible blood in the urine or stool.
Often, cats hide the signs of breathing problems by simply decreasing their activity. By the time an owner notices changes in the cat’s breathing, it may be late in the progression of the cat’s lung disease. There are several causes of breathing changes, but the most common are feline asthma, heart disease, or lung disease.
Foreign Object Ingestion
Many cats love to play with strings or string-like objects (such as dental floss, holiday tinsel, or ribbon), but those strings can be dangerous for your cat. When a string is ingested by a cat, one end may become lodged or “fixed” in place, often under the cat’s tongue, while the rest of the string passes further into the intestine. With each intestinal contraction, the string see-saws back and forth actually cutting into the intestine and damaging the blood supply.
Signs that your cat has eaten a foreign object may include vomiting, lack of appetite, diarrhea, and weakness. Occasionally owners will actually see part of a string coming from the mouth or anal area. You should never pull on any part of the string that is visible; instead, call your veterinary health care team immediately.
Surgery is usually necessary to remove the foreign object and any damaged sections of intestine.
Cats are notorious for both inflicting and suffering bite wounds during encounters with other cats. Because the tips of their canine, or “fang,” teeth are so small and pointed, bites are often not noticed until infection sets in, which is usually several days after the initial injury.
Cats may develop a fever and become lethargic 48 to 72 hours after experiencing a penetrating bite wound. They may be tender or painful at the site. If the wound becomes infected or abscessed, swelling and foul-smelling drainage may develop.
You should seek emergency care for bite wounds so your veterinarian can thoroughly clean the area and prescribe appropriate antibiotics. Occasionally, the wounds can develop large pockets called abscesses under the skin that require surgical placement of a drain to aid in healing.
Hit By Car
Cats that spend time outdoors are at a much greater risk for ending up in the emergency room. Being hit by a car is one of the most common causes of traumatic injuries, such as broken bones, lung injuries, and head trauma. You should always seek emergency care if your cat has been hit by a vehicle, even if he or she appears normal, because many injuries can develop or worsen over the following few hours.
Increased Thirst and Urination
Sudden changes in your cat’s thirst and urine volume are important clues to underlying disease. The two most common causes of these changes are kidney disease and diabetes mellitus.
Your veterinarian will need to check blood and urine samples to determine the cause of your cat’s change in thirst and urine. Having your pet seen on an emergency basis for these signs is important because prompt treatment increases chances for recovery. Exposure to certain toxins, such as antifreeze or lilies, will show similar signs, and delaying veterinary care can be fatal.
Sudden Inability to Use the Hind Legs
Cats with some forms of heart disease are at risk for developing blood clots. These clots can sometimes lodge in a large blood vessel—the aorta—where they can prevent normal blood flow to the hind legs. If your cat experiences such a blood clotting episode (often called a saddle thrombus or thromboembolic episode), you will likely see a sudden loss of the use of his or her hind legs, painful crying, and breathing changes.
On arrival at the emergency room, your cat will receive pain management and oxygen support. Tests will be done to evaluate the cat’s heart and determine if there is any heart failure (fluid accumulation in the lungs). Sadly, such an episode is often the first clue for an owner that his or her cat has severe heart disease. In most cases, with time and support, the blood clot can resolve, but the cat’s heart disease will require lifelong treatment.
Upper Respiratory Infections
Cats and kittens can experience a variety of upper respiratory diseases caused by a combination of bacteria or viruses. An upper respiratory infections, or URI, can cause sneezing, runny nose, runny eyes, lack of appetite, and fever. In severe cases, it can cause ulcers in the mouth, on the tongue, and on the eyes. More often than not, severe cases are seen in cats that have recently been in multiple-cat environments, such as shelters. Small kittens, or kittens struggling to thrive, are also easily infected and may develop more severe complications, such as low blood sugar.
A sudden loss of vision is most likely to occur in an older cat. The most common cause is increased blood pressure (hypertension), which may be due to changes in thyroid function (hyperthyroidism) or kidney disease. There are some cats that appear to have hypertension with no other underlying disease.
Sudden blindness should be treated as an emergency and your veterinarian will measure your cat’s blood pressure, check blood tests, and start medications to lower the pressure and restore vision.
If you notice a change in your cat’s eyes, whether he or she loses vision or not, you should consider this an emergency have your pet seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Disclaimer: This website is not intended to replace professional consultation, diagnosis, or treatment by a licensed veterinarian. If you require any veterinary-related advice, contact your veterinarian promptly. Information at cathealth.com is exclusively of a general reference nature. Do not disregard veterinary advice or delay treatment as a result of accessing information at this site.
The veterinarians at Pet Poison Helpline receive hundreds of calls this time of year from pet owners and veterinarians concerning cats that have ingested Easter lilies.
“Unbeknownst to many pet owners, Easter lilies are highly toxic to cats,” said Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS assistant director at Pet Poison Helpline. “All parts of the Easter lily plant are poisonous – the petals, the leaves, the stem and even the pollen. Cats that ingest as few as one or two leaves, or even a small amount of pollen while grooming their fur, can suffer severe kidney failure.”
In most situations, symptoms of poisoning will develop within six to 12 hours of exposure. Early signs include vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy and dehydration. Symptoms worsen as kidney failure develops. Some cats will experience disorientation, staggering and seizures.
“There is no effective antidote to counteract lily poisoning, so the sooner you can get your cat to the veterinarian, the better his chances of survival will be,” said Brutlag. “If you see your cat licking or eating any part of an Easter lily, call your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline immediately. If left untreated, his chances of survival are low.”
Treatment includes inducing vomiting, administering drugs like activated charcoal (to bind the poison in the stomach and intestines), intravenous fluid therapy to flush out the kidneys, and monitoring of kidney function through blood testing. The prognosis and the cost – both financially and physically – to the pet owner and cat, are best when treated immediately.
There are several other types of lilies that are toxic to cats as well. They are of the Lilium and Hemerocallis species and commonly referred to as Tiger lilies, Day lilies and Asiatic lilies. Popular in many gardens and yards, they can also result in severe acute kidney failure. These lilies are commonly found in florist bouquets, so it is imperative to check for poisonous flowers before bringing bouquets into the household. Other types of lilies – such as the Peace, Peruvian and Calla lilies – are usually not a problem for cats and may cause only minor drooling.
Thankfully, lily poisoning does not occur in dogs or people. However, if a large amount is ingested, it can result in mild gastrointestinal issues such as vomiting and diarrhea.
Pet Poison Helpline also receives calls concerning pets that have ingested Easter grass and chocolate.
Usually green or yellow in color, Easter grass is the fake grass that often accompanies Easter baskets. When your cat or dog ingests something “stringy” like Easter grass, it can become anchored around the base of the tongue or stomach, rendering it unable to pass through the intestines. It can result in a linear foreign body and cause severe damage to the intestinal tract, often requiring expensive abdominal surgery.
Lastly, during the week of Easter, calls to Pet Poison Helpline concerning dogs that have been poisoned by chocolate increase by nearly 200 percent. While the occasional chocolate chip in one cookie may not be an issue, certain types of chocolate are very toxic to dogs. In general, the darker and more bitter the chocolate, the greater the danger. Baker’s chocolate and dark chocolate pose the biggest problem. The chemical toxicity is due to methylxanthines (a relative of caffeine) and results in vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, an abnormal heart rhythm, seizures, and possibly death. Other sources include chewable chocolate flavored multi-vitamins, baked goods, or chocolate-covered espresso beans. If you suspect that your dog ate chocolate, call your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline immediately.
Spring is in the air and Easter is a wonderful holiday. Remember that your pets will be curious about new items you bring into your household like Easter lilies, Easter grass and chocolate. Keep them a safe distance away from your pets’ reach and enjoy the holiday and the season.
“My pet would never eat food off the table!”
“My pet would never knock over the Christmas tree!”
“My pet would never bite someone!”
We all know our pets pretty well, but what we don’t always realize is that stress can make anybody do crazy things! When you have holiday guests or flashing Christmas lights or loud holiday music—or all of the above—at your house all at once, your pet may get stressed and frustrated, causing them to act out in unexpected ways. Most pet accidents are met with the statement, “He’s never done anything like that before!”
We recommend always making sure that your pet has a safe place to sit and relax during your holidays parties. Just like some people, pets need to get away from the action and de-stress, but most of the time they don’t know how to ask for their space. If your pet is comfortable in their crate, we recommend moving it into a quiet room and letting them spend some time resting during your holiday get-togethers. Your pet will be happier, and by extension, you and your guests will be happier! And holidays disasters will be prevented.
‘Tis the season for friends, family and holiday feasts—but also for possible distress for our animal companions. Pets won’t be so thankful if they munch on undercooked turkey or a pet-unfriendly floral arrangement, or if they stumble upon an unattended alcoholic drink.
Check out the following tips from ASPCA experts for a fulfilling Thanksgiving that your pets can enjoy, too.
If you decide to feed your pet a little nibble of turkey, make sure it’s boneless and well-cooked. Don’t offer her raw or undercooked turkey, which may contain salmonella bacteria.
Sage can make your Thanksgiving stuffing taste delish, but it and many other herbs contain essential oils and resins that can cause gastrointestinal upset and central nervous system depression to pets if eaten in large quantities. Cats are especially sensitive to the effects of certain essential oils.
No Bread Dough
Don’t spoil your pet’s holiday by giving him raw bread dough. According to ASPCA experts, when raw bread dough is ingested, an animal’s body heat causes the dough to rise in his stomach. As it expands, the pet may experience vomiting, severe abdominal pain and bloating, which could become a life-threatening emergency, requiring surgery.
Don’t Let Them Eat Cake
If you’re baking up Thanksgiving cakes, be sure your pets keep their noses out of the batter, especially if it includes raw eggs—they could contain salmonella bacteria that may lead to food poisoning.
Too Much of a Good Thing
A few small boneless pieces of cooked turkey, a taste of mashed potato or even a lick of pumpkin pie shouldn’t pose a problem. However, don’t allow your pets to overindulge, as they could wind up with a case of stomach upset, diarrhea or even worse—an inflammatory condition of the pancreas known as pancreatitis. In fact, it’s best keep pets on their regular diets during the holidays.
A Feast Fit for a Kong
While the humans are chowing down, give your cat and dog their own little feast. Offer them Nylabones or made-for-pet chew bones. Or stuff their usual dinner—perhaps with a few added tidbits of turkey, vegetables (try sweet potato or green beans) and dribbles of gravy—inside a Kong toy. They’ll be happily occupied for awhile, working hard to extract their dinner from the toy.
On Ella’s 7th birthday, she presented to us for being lethargic and not moving. Bloodwork only showed that her pancreas was inflamed. An ultrasound was done to determine how bad the pancreatitis was. A tumor was found hiding on the spleen. Splenic tumors are truly silent killers. Ella’s bloodwork was completely normal (aside from elevated pancreatic values) and X-rays never showed the tumor. It is rare to see abnormalities on bloodwork for splenic tumors and only when tumors on the spleen are significantly large can they be detected on X-rays.
Ella was taken to surgery to remove her spleen. Large masses on the spleen can be benign (non-cancerous) blood blisters, commonly called hematomas, or they can be highly malignant tumors leading to death within months after surgery. Regardless, the spleen has to come out, because either type can cause spontaneous bleeding and sudden death.
The week before Ella’s diagnosis, the stem cell therapy company that we work with informed us that they would be performing a new research trial on a cancer vaccine for pets. This is cutting edge technology that was being used in human clinical trials, that is now being applied by a research laboratory in Kentucky to help our pets. I reached out to Ella’s owner to see if she would like her to be part of the study. I informed her that the impact on this to Ella would be minimal. All we needed was to send a large portion of her mass off to the research lab and they would make a vaccine specifically for her, specifically against her tumor! The only thing it would require for Ella was for a blood sample to be taken and a vaccine to be given to her once a month for 3 months.
A week after the surgery, the biopsy results came in. Ella had a “high grade sarcoma”. Typically, by the time a high grade sarcoma is diagnosed in a patient it has already spread to their liver and other organs. Patients with this type of tumor have an average survival time after surgery of 1-2months.
We were glad we had sent Ella’s tumor out to the research lab. Now we anxiously waited for her vaccine to be created. There are 5 steps during the processing that her samples could be rejected meaning no vaccine would be created for her. As she passed each phase of the testing, I would receive a call from the lab and breathe a sigh of relief that her sample made it to the next level. Finally, in April, her vaccines were sent to us. She has now received all 3 of the vaccines that were created for her. Statistically, she should not have lived passed May, but here it is July, 4 months after her surgery, and she is happy and healthy with no signs of metastasis. The blood samples we drew on her confirmed scientifically, that prior to her 1st vaccine, her body was not fighting the cancer, but now she is showing that her body is mounting a strong response to kill off any sarcoma cancer cells in her body.
Ella has made history as the first dog to receive this vaccine and show a positive result both in laboratory tests and at home! We do not know if this means she is cured 100%, but we know that she has out-survived other dogs with her type of tumor while maintaining a normal quality of life! We wish the best to Ella & her mom!!
Want to know more? Ella’s vaccine is an “Autologous Cancer Vaccine.” Autologous means made from the patient himself. As tumors grow, they produce factors to create an immunosuppressive environment for themselves. This means that the tumor can fool the body and keep the body from recognizing the tumor as harmful, so that the body will ignore the tumor’s growth. The goal of the vaccine is to break through this immunosuppressive environment and get the body to recognize that the tumor is foreign and to begin destroying tumor cells. What is novel and cutting edge about this research project is that not only does the vaccine cause the body to produce tumor specific antibodies, it generates the production of tumor specific T-lymphocytes as well which is critical for cancer immunotherapy.
The scientists working on this project have 30 years of experience in this area of study. Only 8 dogs have been treated with this tumor vaccine and followed for results. 7 of the 8 dogs have shown a positive response in the laboratory and Ella is the first to show both a positive response both in the laboratory and in her clinical status.